“Magic saved my life,” is a phrase you hear a lot in this line of work. Some magicians mean it figuratively, as they simply can’t imagine a life without their art, but for some the phrase is quite literally true. Nick Padilla belongs in the latter category. His tricks not only kept him fed while he was homeless, they helped him through a devastating nervous breakdown that hospitalized him. As he explained in an interview with BBC World’s Outlook:
“[I had] a nervous breakdown to the point where, honestly, I wanted to die, man. It was the worst feeling ever. It was horrible. It was like I had nothing to live for any more. Throw any inhibition out of the window and death is no longer a concern.”
Discharged from the hospital, Padilla took a bus to California and ended up sleeping on the streets. He earned money by performing magic tricks, but struggled with suicidal impulses.
“I had drugs from the hospital. Antidepressants, anxiety pills and sleeping pills. If I wasn’t a magician, if I didn’t do magic at the time, I would have probably died in California, because every dollar I made while I was out there, I did making magic. If it were’t for magic I wouldn’t have found a bed to sleep in. I wouldn’t have food. There’s no way I would have survived.”
Padilla eventually found his way back to New York where he ended up working as a tour guide at the Houdini Museum of New York City. He’s since gone on to perform around the US and work on projects for Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, including Sneaky Pete. Though according to Padilla, the best part of his job is still when people in New York as him what he does.
“There’s no better feeling than looking someone dead in the face and going, ‘I’m a magician.'”